ATEC BLOG:  The Future of Electric Car Batteries Could Be…Water?

As we continuously move toward greener technology and energy, electric vehicles (EV) have moved from an elite acquisition (think Tesla Model S and BMW i8) to something more attainable for the masses (like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf). Now that we know electric cars are not a passing trend but a staple of the future, engineers are looking for ways to improve how EV operate. One avenue of EV technology they are looking into building upon are the batteries that power these cars. You may never have guessed it, but the surprising way to emphasize EV battery performance can be boiled down to this: add water.

Yes, water. Researchers at North Carolina State University may have Tesla Model Sdiscovered that water could hold the key to faster, more efficient EV battery technology. They compared two materials – a crystalline tungsten oxide versus a layered, crystalline tungsten oxide hydrate. The latter is comprised of rows of the crystalline tungsten, separated by atomically fine sheets of water. What they discovered was that when they charged each material for a short burst – just 12 seconds – the component layered with water was actually able to store energy more efficiently, while simultaneously wasting less heat.

The atomically-thin layers of water in the hydrate battery were able to facilitate the transport of ions during charging. This could potentially work two ways: it may charge the battery quicker and with greater efficiency, and move the ions quickly during use, increasing the battery output. Water-layered batteries may be able to operate in a slimmer, more compact design, while still exceeding current standards for energy storage. A smaller, more powerful battery – because of water. Who knew.

Continued testing and analysis will need to be done to support these early findings and build the technology to get hydrate batteries into the likes of Telsa. Just because something is successful in the controlled environment of a lab test, doesn’t mean it will easily translate into commercially sound items. To test and monitor the feasibility of hydrate EV batteries, engineers will utilize high-impact DC Power Supply equipment. As technology has evolved, test equipment has been forced to adapt as well. Devices like High Voltage Battery Test Systems have been built in the wake of EV technology – many of which can monitor the persistent effectiveness of hydrate batteries.

Veronica Augustyn, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of the paper describing these findings, says that she and her colleagues are going to work with the National Science Foundation to fine-tune what she called the "interlayer" within the hydrate battery. Their goal is to gain an advanced understanding of these findings, and bring the industry closer to the next-generation of energy-storage devices.

Augustyn's co-authored paper is published in the journal Chemistry of Materials, and available to read in-full here. To learn more about Power Supplies and Loads test equipment, or inquire about what sort of devices you may need for your electric vehicle testing needs, please feel free to contact us directly at 800-404-2832.